Local leaders from frontline communities will illustrate connections between climate change, reproductive justice, immigration, jobs, housing and other issues
Atlanta, GA — In the two weeks before the first-ever Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), leaders from the Gulf Coast, Deep South and Rocky Mountain Region will host town halls and community gatherings at stops along a nine-state bus route to explore how climate change compounds systemic injustices.
Invoking the Freedom Riders of the 1960s, the “Freedom to Breathe” bus tour is a 5,000 mile cross-country trip that will confront the racial, social, economic, and climate challenges that Americans face, and elevate the stories of communities that are advancing solutions.
Studies show that many Americans consider climate change a threat to their children and future generations, but people often fail to see that it’s impacting peoplenow. In communities across the country, the realities of climate change and environmental injustice have already taken hold. By exposing the relationship between climate and issues like immigration, mass incarceration, employment, gentrification, and health, these communities hope to increase the urgency for solutions and link their movements for justice.
“In Louisiana we experience more than our fair share of climate disasters,” said Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. “This unique climate reality of the Gulf Coast highlights how so many issues intersect. Jobs, reproductive health, affordable housing – these are all exacerbated by heat waves, pollution and extreme weather events. This is about more than how to best recover. It’s about how we move forward rebuilding healthy lives and sustainable communities.
“For black, brown, and indigenous communities in the Southeast, Gulf Coast, and Native Lands, battles for climate justice and social justice are often one and the same. Climate change intensifies existing systemic injustices – climate justice is social justice.”
HOW CLIMATE CHANGE COMPOUNDS INJUSTICE
Sea Level Rise & Housing
Historic communities of color face rising housing prices and gentrification, with climate change playing a key role. In South Florida, redlining and segregationprevented black and brown communities from owning beachfront property for much of the state’s history. As a result these communities lived inland, on higher ground. As global warming brings stronger storms and sea level rise, residents and developers are moving to communities at higher elevations. This change in the real estate market pushes people of color out of their neighborhoods and forces them to move to areas that are more likely to flood regularly, and may soon be underwater due to sea level rise.
Caroline Lewis Executive Director at the CLEO Institute in Miami explains:
“Some of our most historic neighborhoods are experiencing accelerated rates of gentrification, pushing out long-time residents. Areas like Little Haiti and Liberty City, located on a ridge where railroad tracks run, sit on some of the highest ground in Miami-Dade County, anywhere between 12 to 17 feet above sea level. Sea level rise and king tides are already making low lying areas vulnerable, and the relative ‘high ground’ becomes very desirable.
“Predatory developers are targeting residents in these gentrifying areas – they seem to know homeowners are in foreclosure even before the homeowners know. These residents in economic crisis are pressured to take ‘attractive’ relocation deals that result in three-hour daily commutes to and from work. We need to invest in these communities now and find solutions that work for everyone in Miami before more affluent communities push working families out of their homes.”
Extreme Weather & Reproductive Justice
Women on the frontlines of climate change in the Deep South are lifting up how the combination of extreme weather, concentrated pollution, and extreme heat create dire situations for pregnant women. Across the world, 80 percent of the people displaced by climate change are women and women are 14 times morelikely than men to die from extreme weather events.
During extreme weather events, gender and race often intersect. African-American women faced severe hardship during and after Hurricane Katrina. A housing shortage disproportionately forced black women to stay with extended family and acquaintances, leading to a rise in storm-related sexual abuse and reported rapes.
Michelle Erenberg, Executive Director of Lift Louisiana explains:
“State and federal lawmakers have prioritized polluters and corporations at the expense of women and their families. Their actions to dismantle vital environmental protections, undermine science-based decision-making, and drastically restrict access to reproductive health care services are harming women and communities of color and worsening the environmental threats that many already face.
“As a nation, we have sought to extract as many resources from Mother Earth as technology allows without consideration of how that impacts communities. At the same time, we have restricted access to the resources that women and mothers need, including reproductive health care. This has resulted in critical threats to the health and wellbeing of both.”
A University of California Berkeley study found that black communities were 52 percent more likely than white populations to live in urban heat islands, Asian Americans were 32 percent more likely, and Latinx Americans were 21 percent more likely. Communities of color face higher mortality rates and heat-related illnesses due to extreme heat. In cities like Los Angeles, people of color are twice as likely to die from a heat wave than other residents.
Extreme heat also plays a role in the labor sector, harming workers’ health, and even leading to death. Some heat stress effects, like fatigue and dizziness, are felt immediately, but studies show heat stress can also lead to long term harms like kidney failure and chronic dehydration. In states like Texas that face increasingly severe heat, workers are forced to endure unsafe workplaces and the long-term health effects of prolonged heat exposure if they want to provide for their families.
The danger from more frequent and severe heat waves is further magnified for populations trapped by poverty, lack of emergency planning, or incarceration. For example, many jails are ill-equipped to protect inmates from heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. More than 75 percent of Texas prisons operate without air conditioning.
Pollution & Health Impacts
Despite decades of protests and lawsuits, pollution from the fossil fuel industry is wreaking havoc on black, brown and indigenous communities.
In Louisiana’s St. James and Plaquemines Parishes, cancer is so prevalent that the corridor has become known as Cancer Alley. The 85 mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is home to about 150 oil plants and refineries. This is a narrow slice of the environmental injustices black and brown communities face across the country. Nearly one million African-Americans live within a half mile of oil and gas facilities that spew pollutants that are harmful to human health and the climate. Black communities are disproportionately burdened by poor air quality, which causes over 138,000 asthma attacks among school children and 100,000 missed school days each year.
In places like rural Georgia and New Mexico, residents are nervously watching as the nuclear industry positions itself as a low-carbon climate solution and job provider. Nuclear capacity has ballooned in the region, and nearby communities have faced water and air contamination from nuclear waste since the 1970s, yielding above average cancer rates. In the coastal town of Shell Bluff, Georgia, residents are also worried that rising sea levels, intensifying storms, and warmer ocean waters pose a threat to the stability of coastal reactors.
ART AS ACTIVISM
“The Freedom to Breathe bus is designed to be a vehicle for social change,” said Cleo Barnett, Deputy Director at Amplifier, a design lab that amplifies the voices of social justice movements and the featured art partner on the bus tour. In support of the Freedom To Breathe tour, posters, stickers, and postcards from a dozen prominent Amplifier artists will be distributed for free to folks across the country participating in the tour.
“The artwork on the bus depicts how all Americans deserve the freedom to breathe and that a cleaner, more just future is possible,” said Celeste Byers, the artist who created the bus imagery and is part of the Amplifier network. “Smoke on the back of the bus is left behind to give way to blue skies on the front and in the future as communities across America work to drive social and climate justice.”
TOWN HALL DETAILS
August 25, Atlanta, GA: Atlanta is at the cusp of major shifts in energy production. Nuclear power is on the rise and renewable energy remains an option as the state plans its future. At the same time, health and environmental concerns are top of mind as new nuclear facilities enter planning stages. The town hall will address this fissure in the community and provide a forum to discuss ways to preserve clean air and water while playing a leading role in the South’s zero-emissions energy revolution.
August 27, Miami, FL: Miami is ground zero for some of the most powerful tropical storms in the country. Sunny day flooding and sea level rise are not only impacting the quality of life for residents, they’re also driving the gentrification of the area’s historically black neighborhoods. This town hall will raise important questions such as, where and how to build new housing? How can cities increase their climate resilience without displacing people? What are communities of color doing to increase their preparation for the next big storm?
August 29, New Orleans, LA: The town hall in New Orleans will focus on the unique ways in which natural disasters, inadequate emergency response, and pollution by the fossil fuel industry specifically harm women’s health. Harmful emissions from the fossil fuel industry and other high emitting entities in low-income areas are causing miscarriages, stillbirths, cancer, asthma and a myriad of health problems. The town hall coincides with the 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and will celebrate women’s leadership in Louisiana.
September 8, Denver, CO: Coloradans will gather to demand action and accountability from elected leaders on climate change, good jobs, and social justice.This rally is one of many happening across the country on September 8 as communities organize to get out the vote. More information about the Denver rally can be found here.
September 13, San Francisco, CA: For its final stop, the Freedom to Breathe bus will arrive in San Francisco and share key lessons at the Global Climate Action Summit. The bus tour is an affiliate event of the Summit.
Freedom to Breathe is driving across nine states over 21 days to highlight the links between climate justice and social justice. For the full list of stops please see freedomtobreathe.org or follow us on Twitter at #freedomtobreathe.
The tour will stop in the following cities for events on the way to the Global Climate Action Summit: Atlanta, GA; Shell Bluff, GA; Miami, FL; Pensacola, FL; Apopka, FL; Africatown, AL; New Orleans, LA; Plaquemines Parish, LA; Houston, TX; Port Arthur, TX; Karnes City, TX; Odessa, TX; Carlsbad, NM; Albuquerque, NM; Las Vegas, NV; Denver, CO; San Francisco, CA
Freedom to Breathe is a cross-country bus tour that spotlights injustice and elevates the stories of frontline communities advancing solutions to climate change and the issues it exacerbates. Fueled by the need to ensure that climate solutions include all Americans, Freedom to Breathe invokes the Freedom Riders of the 1960s in a call-to-action for people throughout the country to confront the racial, social, economic, and climate change challenges that America faces today.